Luis Robert. Kyle Lewis. Gavin Lux. Yordan Alvarez. You already know the names of the big 2020 MLB rookies that everyone was hunting for. Now that 2021 Opening Day is right around the corner, all eyes are trained on the new rookie class.
Let’s put it in reverse for just a second. There are all sorts of rookies from 2020 that are poised to have breakout seasons in their sophomore campaigns. They’re guys who you wouldn’t necessarily have been pumped to see their cards last year. Now, you can find them cheap before they blow up. Here are five that we have our eye on.
(Before we get too far into it, baseball service time can be weird. Some of these players already have rookie cards. Some of them are getting their first rookie cards in 2021. But, they all played at the big league level in 2020. If nothing else, you can definitely target their 1st Bowman cards from a few years back.)
Ryan Mountcastle (Baltimore Orioles, LF and 1B)
Ryan Mountcastle has had more than a cup of coffee in the big leagues. He’s had a scone too.
A mainstay in the Orioles lineup for most of 2020, Mountcastle impressed in his 35-game stint. He put up solid offensive numbers, hitting at a .333 clip with 5 bombs and 23 RBIs. More offensive production is expected though, as Mountcastle’s advanced metrics say he’s barreling up the ball better than about two-thirds of MLB hitters. Over his career in the minors, it’s resulted in him consistently hitting for both average and power.
The Orioles are perpetually rebuilding. Mountcastle is projected to hit sixth in this lineup, meaning that he’ll get plenty of chances to drive in runs. He’s a prime sleeper candidate in both fantasy leagues and card values.
Dylan Carlson (St. Louis Cardinals, OF)
Dylan Carlson’s major league debut didn’t go as planned. It got better as it went on though.
After a bad start, some bad luck, and a demotion, Carlson came back with something to prove. He hit better for the Cardinals down the stretch, eventually winding up in the clean-up spot for St. Louis in the playoffs. Carlson is coming into 2021 with some momentum.
Expectations are high. The angle of his swing results in a best-of-class hard-hit rate and launch trajectory that lands comparisons to names like Freddie Freeman and Corey Seager. Carlson has a lot of potential, and the Cardinals are banking on that. He’s a blue chip prospect who’s going to get a chance to mash this year among a mostly-depleted Cardinals lineup. He could put up huge numbers once he completely adjusts to MLB pitching.
Nate Pearson (Toronto Blue Jays, SP)
A pitcher!? Pitchers don’t drive valuable cards! You’re right, but every list needs a good shakeup.
Nate Pearson went under the radar in his five starts in Toronto last year. The results were mostly unremarkable: one win, four no-decisions, and a 6.00 ERA. However, he also racked up 16 strikeouts in 18 innings pitched.
There are a few things working in Pearson’s favor. There’s room in the Toronto rotation for him to be prominently featured. He has a plus fastball and good offspeed stuff. He should be able to average about a strikeout an inning. That could set him up for a very respectable career in the pros. Also, being a pitcher, you won’t have to break the bank to invest in him.
Jared Walsh (Los Angeles Angels, 1B)
Admittedly, this one feels a bit like cheating. Jared Walsh is technically a third-year player. But, he played 36 games in 2019 and 32 games in 2020. It’s a tiny sample size.
There’s a good chance you’ll know Jared Walsh’s name by the end of the season. He proved last year that he can absolutely rake, as he posted a 1.113 OPS with 9 HRs and 26 RBIs in the month of September. He was no stranger to 3+ RBI days, as he got comfortable in the two-spot in the batting order. Those are the kind of numbers you want from a first baseman.
Bobby Dalbec (Boston Red Sox, 1B and 3B)
Want an all-or-nothing guy? Bobby Dalbec is either going to hit the ball a mile, or he isn’t going to hit it at all.
A whopping 8 HRs in your first 23 professional games is certainly nothing to smirk at. Neither is 39 strikeouts in those games.
Boston infielder Bobby Dalbec has pole-to-pole power that’s going to set off a lot of explosions in Fenway. The Red Sox were so bad last year, that Dalbec’s emergence went mostly unnoticed by everyone except fantasy diehards. They’ll take notice this year when full season projections put him somewhere in the 30+ HR range with a .250 batting average.
With some maturity and plate discipline, Dalbec could be a superstar in the making in one of MLB’s most lucrative markets.